I started writing this letter to you just after Mother’s day. And suddenly three months have gone by and you’re almost sitting up and rolling over. That’s just how things go, I guess. Somehow, too, in the same space of time we’ve gone from a police shooting to white supremacists marching in public. That’s also how things go, I guess.
You arrived just in time to make me a mother for Mother’s Day.
Scrolling through twitter on the Thursday before Mother’s Day, and wondering when you would decide to be born, I saw an announcement for a Mother’s Day March to the Dallas County Courthouse, organized by Mothers Against Police Brutality.
I didn’t go to the march, because you were born the next day. About the time the mothers were marching up the courthouse steps, demanding justice for 15 year old Jordan Edwards, who had been killed by a police officer in Dallas the week before, we were walking down the steps of a Texas hospital to take you home.
I don’t know what it is that makes a mother. However it happens, something I’ve learned in these few short days since you made me a mother, is that along with my fierce love for you comes a fierce anxiety about all the things that could possibly go wrong for you.
Somehow I jump from, “You just coughed” to “You’re going to choke on your own saliva, how do I do infant CPR?” to “What if you end up brain-damaged because of lack of oxygen and never make it to college?” It’s irrational. You’ll be fine. Really.
I can’t shield you from the pain of kids who won’t play with you, or the disappointment of not making the soccer team, or the cuts and scrapes that come from playing outside, or even the consequences of your own foolish decisions.
But honestly, that’s the extent of my worries for you — that the everyday bumps, rejections, disappointments, and injuries of life don’t cripple you.
Sure, I’m worried about the stupid things you’ll do as a teenager- like going to parties where there’s alcohol. I’m not worried that you’ll end up shot in the back of the head by a police officer while leaving one of those parties.
I’m worried you might not work to your potential in school, but I’m not worried that someone will one day look at your transcript and deny you a job or internship based on your race.
I’m worried you’ll get speeding tickets, but I’m not worried those encounters with law enforcement will end in your death.
I won’t have to sit you down when you’re a little older and explain that I don’t want you wearing hoodies or staying out past 9pm for your own safety. I won’t have to explain why mall security follows you around when you go shopping. You’ll get the deal you want when you buy a car.
All mothers love their sons. It’s part of being mothers. Some of us mothers just live with the terror that their son will be taken from them because of racism. I don’t have to live with that terror.
For some mothers, having middle class economic security, and raising hard-working sons who are honor students with 4.0s and on the football team isn’t enough. For Jordan Edward’s mom, it wasn’t enough. She experienced every mother’s nightmare- she received a call her son had died– except this nightmare is unimaginably worse than anything I could dream up. Her son had been shot in the back of the head by a police officer.
The Mother’s day that I celebrated the way you made me a mom, she was mourning the loss of her son.
Mothers of black sons are working towards many things, but one of those things is just to keep their sons alive. It’s been this way since slavery days, through reconstruction and Jim Crow, lynchings and now shootings. It’s humbling, being the mother of a white son in a society where your race is protection and privilege for you, rather than risk and danger.
I know I’ll still worry about you. But I hope I can lift my eyes a bit higher to see the mothers all around me who are worrying about much bigger issues. Since I don’t have to be consumed with keeping you alive, what is it that I’m working towards?
I hope I’m becoming the kind of mom who raises a son who is angry at the injustice around him. Who, rather than taking the privilege his skin affords him, works to change the system until his skin color becomes irrelevant. I hope I’m raising a son who recognizes the image of God in everyone, who recognizes that too often fear pulls the trigger, and works to fight that fear when he feels it. I hope I’m raising a son who who will see friends and family when he sees black skin, not crime and danger.
If you ever decide to march, I hope you’ll march with the people who are for opening up our family wider, regardless of race or ethnicity, rather than closing ourselves off because of white superiority.
Here’s a secret: I don’t know what I’m doing with this mom thing. I don’t think anyone does. But I can pray with Sherman Alexie that as a family
We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.